New York Empire v. Toronto Rush: AUDL Eastern Divisional Finals Preview

The AUDL's Toronto Rush v. New York Empire in 2013.
Photo by Sandy Canetti — UltiPhotos.com

The undefeated Toronto Rush will look to complete a perfect season this weekend in Chicago as they open their postseason with a game against the Eastern Division’s two seed, the New York Empire.

While the Empire were dominant against the rest of the East, they have never come close to taking down the Rush in their three matchups during the regular season. The Rush won those games by an average of nine points.

“I think we have earned the right to be confident in ourselves going into this game,” said Rush captain Mark Lloyd. “That being said, something we have preached all year on our team is respect for our opponents. The Empire have shown points in every game against us that they have the weapons to better us.”

The Rush are smart not to overlook the Empire, who have played their best ultimate of the season in recent weeks. This will also be the first time they face the Rush with their full starting lineups.

The Empire are coming off of a big win over the Philadelphia Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs. They dominated from start to finish.

“If we play that way, it’s not going to be like the last game in Toronto,” said Empire coach Tom Gibbons.

Gibbons acknowledged that beating the Rush will be a challenge. “Flat out, they’re an elite team,” he said. “They’ve played together for ever. They don’t put the disc on the ground.”

In their previous meetings, the Empire simply weren’t able to maintain possession of the disc and the superior fundamentals of the Rush prevailed. Toronto will look to do more of the same this weekend in Chicago.

“We need to make the smart decision on offense but keep attacking when we have the chance,” said Lloyd. “On defense [the goal is to] generate turns. Jack Marsh has been playing great for both the Empire and PoNY since his break in the middle of the summer and [Husayn] Carnegie obviously has big play ability. But if we focus on just those guys, their team will hurt us. So it’s going to need to be a full team effort of Toronto ultimate to help us beat the Empire.”

The Empire know they are the underdog and, in some ways, are embracing that role. Gibbons talked about how they like being considered a “faceless mob.” He says they have refined their approach to playing Toronto, understanding that they are not going to give up the disc as easily as other teams in the Eastern Division.

“We’re modifying what we do to be a bit more risk-averse,” he said. “Not modifying how we run our sets, but when, how often…All the details matter for us at this point.”

An undercurrent to this game is the return of the top Toronto players from Colombia, where they were representing Canada at the World Games. Despite just playing three days of ultimate, each game was very intense, concluding with a knock-down, drag-out battle with Colombia in the bronze medal match. Could Lloyd, Cam Harris, Adrian Yearwood, and Jeff Lindquist be tired after their games this week?

“I think it is an understandable concern to have,” said Lloyd. “That being said, we have had a few days post competition to re-group and re-focus on this weekend. I think, after this weekend, we will need a week to decompress, but we have been preparing for this all summer so I am not worried about fatigue.”

Although the Rush know they will be getting the Empire’s best shot, they have to be looking ahead to Sunday’s finals. There have been no intra-division games this season, so they will see either the Windy City Wildfire or Madison Radicals for the first time if they do take down the Empire.

“Our coaching staff has been looking into the Midwest teams,” said Lloyd. “There is a lot of footage available for both Madison and Chicago so we feel we will be prepared to some extent if we make the finals.”

For now, it’s another matchup between the best in the East.

“It could be our last game of the season,” said Gibbons. “We’ve just got to leave it out there.”

  1. Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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